It was a cold Tuesday evening and I was five months deep on the Instagram page of a friend of a friend of a friend, a person I know tangentially at best. A millennial woman, she is. One just like me, one just trying to figure her life the heck out.

Her posts showcased her graphic design work, announced a new podcast she was creating, teased a side project she had waiting in the wings. Her feed was an ode to experiment—filled to the brim with the products of her interests and hobbies, the remnants of an always tinkering creative mind. As I scrolled through it, getting lost in the swirly content hole we're all prone to fall into late at night, I internally applauded her for testing new ideas with reckless abandon, for putting her work out there for the world to see.

At one point I found myself pausing on a particular post, one with words she had lettered scrawled lazily over a photo and, for whatever reason, it suddenly dawned on me that I could do that. I could tinker with lettering or with graphic design or with whatever creative venture felt right on a given day. I could share said ventures with reckless abandon.

It dawned on me that there are no rules. It feels like there are, but there aren't. Not really. Not on Instagram, not in relationships, not in these lives we lead.

We put ourselves in boxes. Neat, tidy boxes all stacked up in a row. I am this. I am that. I can do this. I can do that. I'm qualified for this. I'm qualified for that. At a certain age we put the boxes aside, close them tight, tape them shut. And then that's it. That's all we are. The people in those boxes, the things they represent: the careers, the relationships, the hobbies, the addresses. That's all we get to be.

If we're lucky, someone will come along and open them up. They'll give us license to try new things and to grow more than we've given ourselves permission to. If we're luckier still, we'll open those boxes for ourselves. We'll throw them away, along with our expectations and our preconceived notions of who we're allowed to be in the world.

I know it yet I forgot it, that there are no rules. That we can be whoever we want, do whatever we want. We can introduce ourselves to people we admire. Make the first move with guys we like. Write words that feel too honest and too vulnerable yet too pertinent not to share, then post those words online. Fiddle with graphic design or with lettering or with photography and post the results on our Instagram feeds. Break out of the boxes we've put ourselves in.

The minutiae of our days can trick us into thinking that that's all there is, that we're all we'll ever be. But it's not true. The structure of our calendars and our to-do lists can make us believe we're not meant to branch out, not allowed to try new things—that our 9 - 5 is our life's work forever and ever amen. But that's not true, either.

We live these lives and we fill them with tasks and with meetings and with busyness that's supposed to make us feel purpose, make us feel needed, make us feel important. But sometimes that schedule and that cadence can just make us feel stuck. Life is too precious to be stuck. Life is too short to be stagnant. Life is full of too many beautiful possibilities to keep ourselves in neat, tidy boxes all stacked up in a row.

Fuck neat.

Fuck tidy.

Fuck the boxes we've confined ourselves to.

There's a podcast I listed to a while ago in which Terry Gross interviews Maurice Sendak. You know Maurice, even if you don't. He wrote Where The Wild Things Are, that book that opened our eyes and filled our childhood selves with wonder and with awe and with a healthy amount of fear and, most importantly of all, with the sense of curiosity that's so prevalent when we're young.

The interview is a delighful exchange, one I'd recommend anyone listen to, and Maurice ends it with these simple, poignant, wildly vital words: "Live your life, live your life, live your life."

There are no rules.

Get rid of your boxes.

Live your life, live your life, live your life.

why is everyone asleep?

I look out my window at the apartment building next to me, look for signs of life to affirm that I am not the only one awake. But the lights? They are all off.

Oh for goodness sake. It's 11:30 pm. Why is everyone asleep?

At least I know my upstairs neighbor is awake. I know this because he is currently rolling bowling balls from one end of his apartment to the other. He may also be playing fetch with his dog. Or tap dancing with force and intention, like he really means it. The possibilities abound.

I look to the left and see the moon high in the sky, confirming that it is, indeed, nighttime in the city. It's the time when most people go to bed, when most people scribble in their journals or read a book or take one last scroll through social media before hitting the hay.

I, on the other hand, tend to view the moon not as a guideline for bedtime, but rather as a gently glowing orb lighting my way through the night. These hours of darkness, of quiet and calm, are the perfect time to write. Or to watch Netflix. Or to look through old photos and wax nostalgic for a while. That's what night is for. It's also for drinking peppermint tea, catching up with that one friend who's also still up, or thinking about the trajectory of your life and where you'd like it to go for 15 minutes or for an hour or for hours on end (this is fun!). It's a time reserved for simple math, the most of which involves calculating the number of hours between now and my ambitious alarm, my on-time-for-work alarm, and my just-enough-minutes-to-make-myself-look-mildly-presentable alarm.

That's what night is for. So why is everyone asleep?

Who are these people anyway? People who brag about how early they wake up? Who look upon night owls with confusion and pity? People who wash their faces and brush their teeth and simply go to bed at a reasonable hour? People who wake up BEFORE THEIR FIRST ALARM?

These are the people I aspire to be, and these are the people I cannot stand. This is a contradiction and I recognize that.

It's 11:51 pm and I'm looking out my window again, but further this time, to an apartment building in the distance. There are lights on there. There are night people doing their night things. These people are probably working on a manuscript for their first book. Or maybe planning the trip they're going to take next month. Or perhaps posting photos onto a homemade inspiration board. (They are all very ambitious.)

They could also be breezing through the new season of House of Cards. Or browsing dogs available for adoption in Minneapolis, which is a thing I have definitely never done (but actually I have and I would NOT RECOMMEND IT to the faint of heart). Perhaps they got a craving for chocolate chip cookies and they're baking a batch AS WE SPEAK. And if that's the case, you go Glen Coco. 

It's 12:03 am now and I'm sitting on my couch and I'm looking at the moon. My eyes are maybe getting a little droopy and maybe I'll go to bed or maybe I'll write some more. 

Nighttime is good for writing. Nighttime is good for a lot of things. The world is your oyster and your schedule is your playground.

Sleep is good, too. Sure it is. But sometimes, when the whim of imagination or the spark of curiosity overwhelms you, give into it. Write that essay. Watch that show. Browse that animal adoption page. Fulfill your inner night owl, if only for a little while.

We can always sleep tomorrow.

a new year

The Year That Shall Not Be Named has come to a close. The champagne has been popped and the tweets in which we collectively grasped for humor and for witticisms and for anything really to make sense of the cluster have been put to rest. It's time to move forward. It's 2017.

Last year was, for our nation, a mess. It was, for me personally, mediocre at best. A few particularly good things did happen—I got to visit my best friend in L.A., my little apartment in the city was featured on one of my favorite websites, I celebrated the weddings of a few close friends, my nephew who I am head-over-heels-can't-even-believe-it in love with was born. Those things were great. But otherwise? Definitive mediocrity. While the shift that happens when the clock strikes midnight on January 1st doesn't necessarily mean my circumstances will change or our country will rise from the heap of dumpster fire ashes it's lying in, I'm one to take any opportunity for a metaphorical fresh start. 

On New Year's Day I went to dinner with a friend and as we sat down in the cozy space, one of my favorites in Minneapolis, our waiter asked if we had set any resolutions yet. I swiftly told him that no, I'm not setting resolutions this year and he laughed and said that was a good strategy, to keep expectations low. And I suppose that's a part of it, the comfort of low expectations. But another is that I know myself. I know that writing a laundry list of lofty resolutions doesn't fuel me, it stifles me. A few days ago I found the list of goals I had written in the early hours of January 1, 2016, after the ball had dropped and the wine had worn off, and in the course of the past year only one of them has truly been fulfilled. So in 2017, rather than making a futile attempt at dedicating myself to a broad list of goals, I'm going to focus on setting a few meaningful intentions instead.

The first? Be present. If you've ever meditated or tried to stay present for the length of one activity—taking a shower, going for a run, washing the dishes—you understand that our minds can be a minefield of thoughts. (I mean if you've ever lived a day as a human person you understand this.) Most of my life is spent pondering the future or overanalyzing the past and I've realized that it is in these moments of absentmindedness that a lot of my anxiety takes root. Being present lessens the swirl of babble and emotions I've usually got going on inside, and that benefit alone makes it a worthwhile pursuit.

Intention number two? Figure out what I love and do more of it. A fun thing about me is that I tend to be a bit of a chameleon. (Kind of like Maggie and eggs in Runaway Bride...oh you haven't watched that movie 50 times like I have? Weird.) I adjust my conversation style based on the people I'm talking to. What piques my interest changes based on who I'm with, based on who I admire most at any given time. Maybe this is not an anomaly, but I'd still like to dedicate energy this year to figuring out what truly appeals to me.

And the third. Be kinder to myself. Here's the deal: my inner critic can be—in the words of my friend, Danielle—a real bitch. It's almost impressive how quickly my brain can come up with reasons I'm not good enough for something, not pretty enough for someone, not enough in general. This year, whenever possible, I'd like to catch that inner critic in the act and tell her to please, kindly, fuck off.

That's it folks. Happy New Year. Let's make 2017 a good one. Or a good-ish one, because low expectations and stuff. Let's be nice to each other and support one another and remember that we're all, most of the time, trying our best. And whenever the going gets tough, let's look up our favorite Obama Biden memes because they helped last year and I assume they'll still do the trick in 2017. Here's mine. Cheers.